Beyond Modern Theatrics: Restoring the Dignity of Painting and Music
The seventeenth century French querelle des anciens et des modernes suggests that the dawn of the modern world is marked by the rise of a new theatre.  What is new about the modern theatrical art that would lead to the world-wide spread of film production? Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s writings on theatre invite the thought that modern… The post Beyond Modern Theatrics: Restoring the Dignity of Painting and Music appeared first on VoegelinView.




The seventeenth century French querelle des anciens et des modernes suggests that the dawn of the modern world is marked by the rise of a new theatre.  What is new about the modern theatrical art that would lead to the world-wide spread of film production?
Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s writings on theatre invite the thought that modern theatrics obscures the natural tension between poetry/music and painting, a tension, even conflict that, falling short of ushering into a complete imitation of everyday life-experience, points further to a reality in light of which our experience emerges as an imitation in its own right.
While it might seem that both painting and music/poetry seek to replace our ordinary experience of things, the battle between the object of hearing and that of sight guides us to admit that experience is irreducible to human art, or that experience is grounded in a divine, eternal reality.
If classical theatrics reminds us of the eternal, modern theatrics confuses what we hear and what we see onto a stage that is supposed to complete or redeem experience making any reference to a divine foundation of experience ultimately expendable.  Modern theatre makes us even loathe the tension between music and painting as falling short of a modern synthesis of the two, a synthesis in which divine intellection is seemingly replaced by the popular feelings to which modern theatrics caters relentlessly.
In classical terms, what we are given, namely the content of our senses or sensory-consciousness, is a reality we witness by splitting it into two conflicting elements, insofar as conflict points back to reality itself as resolution.  The conflict between sight and hearing is paradigmatic.  Speech tries to overcome sight; sight tries to overcome a vocal process, or “music”: the static versus the process leading up to it.  Thus does the painter try to engulf the fleeting moment, to free it from its “history” or genesis, thereby reconciling it with eternity.
While the painter tries to eternalize the moment, the speaker-musician tries to eternalize (i.e., elevate to eternity) the process leading to the moment: the moment is supposed to be cancelled or erased—replaced by or resolved into an eternal music.
In sum, while painting tries to overcome the Many, musical speech tries to overcome the One, the God that painting stands for “iconically”.  Understandably, modernity or progressive secularism is compelled to rid itself of real painting; for the modern arises in rejection of divine-metaphysical unity via its replacement with a novel ideal-symbolic “geometrical” unity.[1]
The new, modern God is incompatible with classical painting, but also with a classical theater that, far from trying to synthesize sight and hearing in what Dante would evoke as visibile parlare—the “visible speech” characteristic of divine Logos—points back “tragically” to the hiatus between vision and music, between the unity of a static moment and the becoming that the moment overshadows pretending to overcome or resolve it within itself.
It is the tragic character of antiquity that modernity rejects—beyond Christianity’s otherworldly Cross-mediated salvation—in favor of an optimism or progressivism incarnated most glaringly by modern film-making, a novel theatrics pretending to synthesize painting and music mechanically, or by cutting both painting and music off from their original telos, namely their natural logic/logos or dialectic.  As if both painting and music found their consummate Savior in the modern film as theatre built upon photography’s mechanical grasping of experience.
Cinematography’s pretension to overcome the tension between painting and music is retraceable to the rise of photography, which does not conceal music the way painting proper does.  With photography there is no incorporation of music.  Painting, on the other hand, conceals music by gradually incorporating it as a process within its still-image: the painter transforms the process into a still image, a pointer to eternity, whereas photography kills the process, entailing constitutionally an act of violence, namely the killing of the music that painting is supposed to incorporate.  Photography has therefore no poetry to it, no process; photography is constitutionally dead: it has no soul; it is lifeless; as a zombified version of painting, leaving music without painting, whereupon process is no longer guided to the image, no longer inspired by the image to efface the image via its incorporation.  But this is what music proper does: it seeks to efface the image by incorporating it.  And in incorporating the image that points back to the eternal, music somehow bespeaks the image, or it speaks on its behalf.  Yet, modern music qua modern does not do this, because it fails to recognize a poetic image it can incorporate, as opposed to a mechanically-grasped image.
The necessary condition for music’s incorporation of the image is obscured where painting or the poetic image is obscured.  More precisely, what is obscured is an image incorporating process, the musical process that painting conceals or contains, freezing the process into stillness.  Yet, the image/form is more primordial that process, just as unity is necessarily presupposed by multiplicity, even as the poetic image incorporates a process.  But then, whence does the process arise?  How can the image be more primordial than the process if the former entails the negation or incorporation of the latter?  While the two entail each other “temporally,” what-is-still is more immediate than process and so immediately related to eternal being; therefore it is said to be more primordial.[2]
Now, there is no return to classical painting and music as long as we rely on the modern habit or logic of mechanical-grasping upon which is built cinematography.  A “new” speech is needed to undo the effects of modernity’s mechanical logic (modernity’s own propaganda), to free us from them, so that we may regain confidence in the classical art of painting, as well as in the classical art of musical speech, or of oral poetry in its multiple guises and “orchestral” ramifications.
The speech allowing us to access classical painting and music anew and in their original context is a speech exposing the speech or logic of modernity as a giant with feet of clay, where modernity pretends to reveal what pre-modern man leaves un-manifest.  For modernity offers visible process, the logic of existence or “history,” which replaces hidden providence.
How can we recover hidden providence, the visionless music of pure speech, without the help of a speech freeing us from the speech that deviated the course of classical painting and music in the interests of the establishment of their mechanical resolution?  We would need a speech freeing us from the deviant speech that manifests the future, logic, the hidden.  Music itself begs for the soteric agency of a classical speech arguing that music is not to satisfy or restore our passions by guaranteeing a secular mecca for them; a heaven on earth.  By the same token, the image is not to move.  We need to stop, to find the hiddenness, the sacred character of forms.  The image must be allowed to be itself.  How?  What is the original function of the image?  To point to eternal, hidden meaning.  This pointing has been obscured; the pointing-faculty of painting has been obscured.  Painting’s stillness has been coopted into a process, a historical process devoid of mystery; a technical-mechanical one in which the secrets of painting have been supposedly exposed.
The art of painting is no longer conceived as a process that testifies to the hiddenness of the eternal, or that “hides eternity” (projecting the eternal as hidden) by producing a pointer to eternity.  Painting is no longer concealing the process, the path to eternity in the act of exposing it as a still-point (the painted icon), thereby countering the vulgar impulse to grasp the distance separating us from eternal being—as the distance between a center and its circumference—mechanically.
But now, in what predicament does music find itself, today?  Music is no longer pointing back to the eternal.  How come?  Because modern music attempts to manifest the eternal (to paraphrase Picasso, it does not seek, but find truth).  Why shouldn’t it?  Because the work of manifesting is proper to painting.  Musical speech, speech in its original function, erases the image; and to erase the image is to erase the manifestation of eternity.
Painting manifests eternity by erasing the process, our distance from eternity, the path taken from our perfection in eternal being to our “fallen” condition as finite, determined beings.  Philosophy  “exposes” the distance in a mysterious, divine way, justifying the classical designation of philosophy as divine or as coinciding with divine logos insofar as it shows what is in the mind.  Philosophy as the painting of and in the mind: Dante’s visibile parlare.  Thus understood, philosophy is none other than divine logos, the only kind of discourse that is at once a painting—as a process that is at once an image.  Neither musical in the ordinary sense, nor painting in the ordinary sense, though man discovers philosophy as divine logos through the two classical activities of painting and music.
Is the divine logos to replace the two activities leading to it?  No, for it exposes both to their proper function, lest they serve an anti-Christ logos, a deviant one that destroys painting and music alike by pretending to expose their ground, or the path through which both painting and music are determined.
In our fallen condition we ourselves are determined.  When we are determined there has to have been a genesis.  How did we fall into this world of determination(s)?  We are naturally trying to discover that.  So we try to account for the process, to incorporate it in an image.  We are incorporating the process by which we have fallen into determination.  Yet, our incorporation does not suggest that the process is altogether visible.  Hence Dante’s warning: “I know not how to retell well how I entered, / so full was I of sleep at that point / for I abandoned the upright way” (Io non so ben ridir com’i’ v’intrai, / tant’ era pien di sonno a quel punto / che la verace via abbandonai).[3] Our genesis or the path through which we fall from an upright way into or through a “point” is not upright or linear, but spiraling or transcending our capacity to measure it without accounting for evil, as opposed to relying merely on what is well or good (ben).
Our genetic process is not visible or manifest and yet painting paints it; we determine and thereby shroud that process.  Thereupon music comes on the scene, offering to retrace or “rehearse” the process qua process, not hide or incorporate it; not bespeak eternal being, as the still image of eternity, but set the process free; exposing the process, rather than hiding it or concealing it as a relief does; music or poetic speech exposes the process and, in some respect, here is the key to the ancient battle between philosophy and poetry.  For philosophy is akin to painting.  Unenlightened or “earthly” poets, on the other hand, have “impiously” exposed the genesis of images, even the theogony.  How do the divine images or forms come into being?  What is the music, the voice they conceal?  If you seek this voice in the image, you cannot find it, for what is incorporated in painting is not readily accessible beautiful music: painting includes beautiful music, but also evil, noise; not merely music.[4] So music extracts part of the process, the beautiful or musical part; the harmonious part, as opposed to the cacophony, the noise.
“Here it is, we have exposed the process, everything is wonderful,” cries out the deluded musician.  Yet, music can work together with painting, leading somehow back to painting.  Has music effaced the image, making it superfluous?  No, since music has not accounted for evil, the ugly.  Painting must then be more daring than music, as the painter must face evil directly, including both beauty and the ugly, both good and evil.  You cannot journey directly from music back to painting; you have to incorporate the darkness that music has, with mathematical necessity, left out.
You cannot return to painting beginning from music; conversely you cannot resolve music into painting.  If painting tries to incorporate the beautiful musical process alone—to account for it “well” or purely—it fails.  Painting must incorporate a primordial process that includes good and evil, the Fall as a whole.  The movement or mystery of the Fall is what painting is trying to incorporate or erase via incorporation.
So daunting are the tasks, the mandates of painting and music that we require rigorous guidance to discover them.  Now, as Dante’s Virgil stands to remind us, the guidance painters and musicians alike need is philosophy as restorer of both painting and music; philosophy as activity of restoration.  As the 正言zheng-yan of ancient China: rectification, correction, restoration, being at once governing of speech.[5]
The speech attributing roles to painting and music begs for correction, as does our life as a whole.  Classical philosophy stands as restoration of the good life, the orderly life where the various aspects of life are integrated, restored to their proper function.  Thereby philosophy frees us from perplexity, from chaos, from a confusion of functions, of activities.  Thanks to philosophy’s “visible speech,” music no longer will try to do what does not belong to it as a function, just as paining will do what it is supposed to do and nothing other than that.


[1] Here we find the master-key to the revolution advocated by the likes of Galileo Galileo and Baruch Spinoza.
[2] This is the reason for Leonardo da Vinci’s upholding of painting as constitutionally superior to music.
[3] Inferno, Canto 1.10-12.
[4] Painting does not resolve within itself, but invites music, helping us see in a poetic, musical way, beyond our physical or vulgar (mode of) vision, which is confused between 1. the poetic/musical way of painting, and 2. the evil way characteristic of mechanical grasping.
[5] Confucius, Analects, 12.17.

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